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Fraud speedbriefing: The SFO brings its first charges under the Bribery Act 2010

    • Fraud and financial crime


    On 14 August 2013 the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (the “SFO”) brought charges under the UK Bribery Act 2010 (the “Bribery Act”) for the first time. The charges were brought against three individuals, all of whom are British nationals, for both the giving and receiving of bribes. The charges relate to a suspected £23m fraud involving a global organisation in connection with selling bio-fuel in South East Asia.

    In addition to offences relating to the giving and receiving of bribes, the Bribery Act contained a new corporate offence of failure to prevent bribery whereby, if a company fails to prevent an “associated person” from committing bribery, it can be criminally liable. Given it is a strict liability offence it is irrelevant whether the company knew about or condoned the bribery.  The only defence is if the company can show it had “adequate procedures” in place to prevent bribery occurring.  In addition, the Bribery Act has an extremely wide jurisdictional scope. In response to this strict legislation, UK and global businesses scrutinised and improved their anti-bribery procedures in order to adopt such “adequate procedures”. 

    Businesses and lawyers have since awaited the first corporate prosecution since the Bribery Act came into force over two years ago, keen to see how the law will be applied and what, in practice, will be considered “adequate” procedures. 

    It is somewhat surprising therefore that the first prosecution is not under the new strict liability offence against a corporation but is, in fact, against individuals.  However, David Green QC (SFO Director) stated last month that his team has two live investigations into companies suspected of breaching the Bribery Act and the first corporate charges may well be brought in the near future.